‘I was surprised it opened at all.’ Boise River floaters make the best of short season

The pedestrian bridge that connects Warm Springs Golf Course to ParkCenter Blvd. was a popular spot for jumpers on Monday afternoon, the final day of operations at Barber Park for float season on the Boise River.
The pedestrian bridge that connects Warm Springs Golf Course to ParkCenter Blvd. was a popular spot for jumpers on Monday afternoon, the final day of operations at Barber Park for float season on the Boise River. jjaszewski@idahostatesman.com

The shortened floating season on the Boise River came to a bittersweet end on Monday, marking the last day of the summer when floaters may rent tubes and rafts.

Flooding on the Boise River this spring and summer forced regulars off of the river until July 29, the latest opening date on record. In 2016, water recreation services along the Boise River were open by June 29.

At one point during the spring, paddleboarders rowed through Barber Park’s parking lots while the Boise River Raft and Tube rental shop was closed.

Woody Smith, of Boise, has been floating the Boise River “since I was a kid.” On Monday he took his two sons, ages 9 and 7, for the first trip down the river of the summer.

“We weren’t disappointed about the late opening,” Smith said. “But today should be fun.”

Smith’s older son, Brody, is a Cub Scout. The trip with his father will help him earn a pin for boating safety with the Boy Scouts.

Tom Hamilton, of Meridian, had put floating the Boise River on his summer bucket list.

“We’ve never done it before and it would be a good trip to try,” said Hamilton, as he waited with his wife and their children — ages 16 and 12 — in line on Monday to rent a raft.

Floaters just happy to make it out

Ada County only gave the green light to tube and raft rentals from Barber Park when the water flow fell below 1,500 cubic feet per second at the Glenwood Bridge, and crews had gotten a chance to remove debris and obstacles from the floating route. At its peak this summer, the Boise River hit more than 9,600 cubic feet per second as river managers upstream tried to balance holding water back without causing greater flooding later on.

Boise River Raft and Tube Rentals is Ada County’s official concessionaire at Barber Park, and the county collects profits from the rentals. That income isn’t tallied yet for this year, said county spokeswoman Kate McGwire, but it’s expected to take a blow from the shortened season.

The county did report Thursday that floaters are spending daily the most money they ever have at the tube rental spot.

Rafters and tubers may continue to float the Boise River this summer, but raft and tube rentals in Barber Park will no longer be available.

Melanie Ernst and her husband, Alex Ernst, spent Monday afternoon floating the river with their children. It was the first trip of the season for the Boise family, but they’ve floated the river annually in the past.

“I wasn’t disappointed with the late opening because I was surprised it opened at all,” Melanie said. “It seemed so unsafe (during the flood).”

Eric Rabbanian lives near the river and could see the flood damage, so he also didn’t expect to get any chance for floating this summer. Monday was his first Boise River trip of the year.

“It’s part of the Boise experience,” he said while waiting for a raft.

Cindi Little and Jane Burgman spent Monday afternoon kayaking down the Boise River. While it was a first for Little, Burgman has recreated on the river in prior summers.

“If it weren’t so flooded, we would have bought kayaks sooner in the summer and used the Greenbelt,” Little said.

“It’s the first trip of the summer and I’m grateful we could make it,” Burgman said with a grin.

Safety issues on the Boise River

The shortened floating season included a normal level of safety troubles this summer, with one notable exception.

In the first two weeks, July 29-Aug. 11, the Boise Fire Department tallied eight swift water rescues, according to department spokeswoman Char Jackson. From Aug. 11-Sept. 1, Boise Fire had another three rescues.

That compares to seven rescues during the first two weeks of the 2016 season, June 29-July 12.

Boise police also faced the usual issues with people jumping off of park bridges into the river. But one woman was seriously injured this summer when a man landed on her.

On July 30, only one day into the season, the 19-year-old woman was floating near the Baybrook Court bridge when the man reportedly landed feet-first on her abdomen. That bridge is near East ParkCenter Boulevard.

Boise Police spokeswoman Haley Williams said last week the jumper still had not been identified and charges have not been filed in the case.

It is illegal in Boise to jump from a bridge within 50 feet of a person, but it is a crime often unenforceable if jumpers flee down the river before police arrive. Illegal jumping is an infraction that’s punishable by a fine of up to $100 in Boise.